Ten Desert Island Songs

If you follow this blog, you know I make a lot of lists. The thing about lists is it makes you choose and justify in your own mind. My colleague Peter said he took a cue from one of my blogs and developed a list of 10 songs he would enjoy if stuck on a desert island. Ten is not very many, so these have to be songs you want to hear, over and over again.

Here we go:

“Ventura Highway” by America. From the album Homecoming (1972). This song still gives me goosebumps when I hear it. With the opening acoustic guitar notes, I am transported above the Southern California landscape. Full of hope, and youthfulness, it is like arriving at your destiny. They lyrics of the song are poetic and obtuse enough to fill my head with wonder. I never get tired of hearing this song.

“Time Waits For No One” by The Rolling Stones. Probably my favorite song with an extended guitar solo. Mick Taylor creates magic in the last couple of minutes of this song. Musically, the Stones were on fire, and returned to this instrumental territory, mainly because Taylor had left the group. From It’s Only Rock and Roll (1974).

“Siberian Khatru” by Yes. Another extended guitar song where the last couple of minutes are smoking with Steve Howe shredding the song with his guitar. Lyrically, the song is cryptic, so it is not the meaning, but lyrics that sound like a mysterious journey. The song appears on Close to the Edge (1972).

“Help Me” by Joni Mitchell. Court and Spark (1974) is a remarkable album, full of smartly written lyrics and jazz-rock music. Mitchell did not write singles, although other artists had chart success with her songs. This was a rare case of Mitchell scoring a hit, even with her sophisticated musical structures.

“Will to Love” by Neil Young. A beautiful song, hypnotic, magical and haunting. A hidden nugget from American Stars ‘N’ Bars (1976). Recorded by Young in front of a crackling fire on acoustic guitar, he sings of the natural urges in people and animals to seek love and their life purpose. Young overdubbed a variety of instruments on top of the basic track to give it textures.

“Do What You Want, Be What You Are” by Hall and Oates. An R&B style ballad, released before Hall and Oates achieved monstrous success. They had scored with “Rich Girl” and “Sara Smile” but had not broken through with album success. This song was on Bigger Than Both of Us (1976), which contained “Rich Girl”, so it was a bit lost. “Do What You Want, Be What You Are” is a moody, bluesy gem.

“Love, Reign o’er Me” by The Who. Released on the exquisite Quadrophenia (1973) album, it is The Who at their creative best. This song has a super-charged arrangement and Roger Daltrey is amazing vocally. This song is more than just roaring guitars, a flurry of drums and a pulsing bass guitar. Pete Townshend’s musical vision was peaking, he went beyond the horizon on Quadrophenia.

“Pirates” by Emerson, Lake and Palmer. From Works, Volume 1 (1977) album, one of their most ambitious songs, and really the end of their creative influence. It is a lush and powerful, driving and grand, with orchestral backing and great vocals by Greg Lake.

“Back Stabbers” by The O’Jays, released in 1974. Very sophisticated R&B, written by Kenny Huff, Gene McFadden and John Whitehead. This was the Philly Soul sound, great harmony vocals, lush orchestration and a terrific backing track.

“One Less Bell to Answer” by The Fifth Dimension, released in 1970. A Burt Bacharach/Hal David masterpiece. Produced by Bones Howe with lead vocal by Marilyn McCoo.

Honorable mention: “The Sound of Silence (Simon & Garfunkel), “Band on the Run” (Paul McCartney), “No Quarter” (Led Zeppelin), “So Far Away” (Carole King), “Deja Vu” (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young), “Kicks” (Paul Revere & the Raiders), “All Along the Watchtower” (Jimi Hendrix), “Wichita Lineman” (Glen Campbell), “These Eyes” (The Guess Who), “Me and Mrs. Jones” (Billy Paul), “Beginnings” (Chicago), “One of These Nights” (Eagles), “Hypnotized” (Fleetwood Mac), “Evil Woman” (ELO), “When You’re a Free Man” (Moody Blues)


5 thoughts on “Ten Desert Island Songs

  1. Thanks for the follow-up plug, Mike. It appears you’re as much a ’70s man like I’m a ’60s man! The two songs I especially like are Joni’s “Help Me” and the Stones’ “Time Waits for No One.” There are probably a dozen Joni songs that would be welcomed on my desert isle. And “Time Waits” is just a fantastic song not often mentioned when the Stones are discussed.

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  2. Interesting choices – mine would also be heavily skewed toward ’70s music, though I couldn’t go to a desert island without at least one ’60s tune.

    My selections probably would be much more predictable and could look something like this:
    – The Beatles/A Day in the Life
    – Carole King/I Feel the Earth Move
    – The Rolling Stones/Dead Flowers
    – Marvin Gaye/What’s Going On
    – Neil Young/The Needle and the Damage Done
    – Deep Purple/Lazy
    – Pink Floyd/The Gig in the Sky
    – Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band/Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
    – Stevie Wonder/Sir Duke
    – Steely Dan/Deacon Blues

    Of course, tomorrow the above list may look entirely different! 🙂

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    1. I like all of your choices except the King, Deep Purple, and Wonder songs. And as much as I love “Great Gig in the Sky,” it’s part of a song cycle and really needs to be part of the rest of that incredible album (IMO). I debated including “What’s Going On” on my own list, but ultimately decided on another Motown song (“My Cherie Amour”). Fun stuff!

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      1. Fair point about Pink Floyd. It was a bit of a random choice; Clare Torry’s incredible vocals always give me the chills on this tune!

        When it comes to Stevie Wonder, it’s really tough to select one tune only. In general, I really dig his “classic period”. The entire “Songs in the Keys of Life” album is a true gem. I pretty much could have picked any other tune from that record.

        As for Deep Purple, they remain my no. 1 choice when it comes to hard rock, with “Machine Head” being my favorite album. While I love “Highway Star” and “Smoke on the Water”, I deliberately picked what’s perhaps a less obvious choice.

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